Whisky Focus - Sliabh Liag The Kilcar Release

Sliabh Liag The Kilcar Release

23rd August 2023
Sliabh Liag Distillers announce the release of their first whiskey and the first legal whiskey produced in Donegal since 1841 - Sliabh Liag The Kilcar Release is a smoky single malt Irish whiskey and it will only be available via a ballot.

Sliabh Liag The Kilcar Release

Sliabh Liag (pronounced 'Sleeve League') Distillers have announced the historic release of Sliabh Liag The Kilcar Release, the first legally distilled whiskey from Donegal since 1841.

With the introduction of Sliabh Liag The Kilcar Release, a single malt Irish whiskey, Sliabh Liag Distillers have achieved a remarkable feat, resurrecting Donegal's unique smoky whiskey style that had teetered on the brink of obscurity. Produced during the challenging days of pandemic-induced lockdowns at the Sliabh Liag Distillery situated in the south-western reaches of Donegal, Sliabh Liag serves as a testament to the commitment of safeguarding Donegal's cultural lineage while heralding a new epoch of artisanal artistry.

Founder James Doherty, a passionate advocate for reclaiming Donegal's distilling heritage, said: "Smoky Irish whiskey has a deep-rooted connection to Donegal and Sliabh Liag, our first single malt, is about reminding whiskey lovers – and the world – of that. The art of distillation, ageing, and blending has been refined over centuries, and the northwest region of Ireland has contributed its own distinct touch. With a fusion of history, craftsmanship, and community, we are not just distilling a spirit; we are distilling the essence of Sliabh Liag, Donegal – its rugged landscapes, its resilient people, and its untamed spirit."

James added: "This moment is not only about the whiskey itself but about reclaiming our identity, our traditions, and our history. While Burt Distillery ceased production in 1841, we know illegal distilling continued during the intervening years, not least by my grandfather who was creating a smoky, double distilled spirit under the authorities’ radar on the hills ‘up the glen’ in Kilcar. It’s a special feeling to be releasing a spirit named in his honour; the first legal whiskey in Donegal for nearly 200 years, and a bridge between generations of Donegal distillers."

Adding to this, Moira Doherty, co-founder of Sliabh Liag Distillers said: "Donegal's landscape imparts a character that is distinctively its own. The rugged mountains, wild heather, and briny sea air infuse Donegal whiskey with an unparalleled sense of place. We worked hard in lockdown to commission the distillery and be the first distillery in Donegal to be granted geographical indication (GI) status. We even sent turf from our own bog for the malting process and I distilled this whiskey in a double distilled heavily smoky style. James’s mum and aunt made it clear that the distillery was in the parish of Kilcar and that influenced the naming too. This whiskey is a tribute to this beautiful place and its people down through the generations. For us, the smokiness is more than a flavour; each sip is a connection to the past, and a celebration of the enduring spirit of a resilient community."

Inspired by the history of whiskey production in the region, Sliabh Liag Distillers has dedicated extensive efforts to source the finest local ingredients and employ time-honoured techniques, culminating in the creation of what they tell me is an exceptionally remarkable spirit. The outcome is a whiskey that not only pays homage to Donegal's heritage but also resonates with global whiskey enthusiasts who hold a deep appreciation for the craftsmanship of whiskey-making.

Sliabh Liag presents a doubly distilled smoky whiskey crafted from Irish peated malt. Amidst the pandemic's challenges, the initial cask was filled and matured in a first-fill bourbon American white oak cask. This smoky single malt Irish whiskey is said to boast a remarkably gentle, invigorating character with hints of citrus and a luscious chocolate undertone that elegantly complements the prevalent smokiness. Fashioned from Irish Craft Malts barley cultivated in Meath and malted using peat from Mín na bhFachraín, the whiskey's smoky character harkens back to the Ulster distillation practices of two centuries past, presenting a distinctive contrast to the broader Irish whiskey landscape, much like the county itself.

Several of the initial bottles from this release have already been auctioned for charitable causes. Two found their way to supporting the Creeslough community at the Dublin Donegal Business Association Person of the Year event, while one was directed to the child loss charity Rosabel’s Rooms in Galway.

On July 27, 2023, the cask was ceremoniously opened, and the founders, Moira and James Doherty, along with James Keith and their families, meticulously bottled the initial sample bottles. Priced at €300 per bottle, each decanter is accompanied by a commemorative Tuath glass and a precious 2ml tasting sample. The angels' share was indeed generous with this creation, resulting in a scant 100 bottles available through a ballot system. Whiskey enthusiasts who want a chance at owning a piece of Sliabh Liag history - The Kilcar Release you can enter the ballot by emailing

From their new base at The Ardara Distillery, Sliabh Liag Distillers are progressively unveiling the intricate tapestry of Donegal's distillation heritage on the global platform, one bottle at a time. As the first drops of this exceptional whiskey touch discerning palates, they carry with them the very essence of Donegal's spirit – a spirit that the Sliabh Liag Distillers team takes immense pride in revitalising for the county and reintroducing to the wider world.

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